Summary: It's important to give the right gift to the one you love.
Warnings: AU set in feudal Japan.
Title, Author and URL of original story: Nanshoku by irisbleufic
Daimyo Nakamura Kaito was a just ruler, stern and principled, and although his heart had hardened after the death of his wife he never descended into cruelty, as some lords did. Hiro, only son of Lord Nakamura, was well on his way to proving himself a worthy successor; rather than being sponsored by another samurai, his teaching was undertaken by his own father, who was in his own right a Battojutsu master and well-known for being as clever as he was stern.
It was unusual, but not unheard-of, for Nakamura to choose to train another boy at the same time, a minor noble's son. Masahashi Ando was a scant few weeks younger than Hiro, more serious and less reckless than the lord's heir, and after a few tentative days of boundary-testing and suspicion the boys became friends.
Nearly everyone expected that Ando would be trained in shudo, from his parents to the servants of the lord's house to Ando himself, but he never so much as saw the inside of Nakamura's bedchamber. Rather, he spent all of his time with Hiro; the boys could hardly be separated, training together, learning the arts together, eating together, making mischief together, never sleeping farther apart than the lengths of their outstretched arms.
Hiro would one day inherit his father's role as the ruler, and Nakamura knew that his son was willful, easily distracted, and needed someone ultimately loyal at his side. For that reason, he allowed the boys' friendship to flourish, and now that the boys were on the verge of manhood, he was satisfied that the choice he made was a good one. The Masahashi boy was an excellent foil to Hiro's flaws, would be a faithful adviser and an enduring friend, he could tell, and would have no conflict between the importance of his daimyo and his beloved, as it was not difficult to see the depth of feeling Ando harbored for Hiro.
The passing of years proved Nakamura correct. Even as they approached the age of adulthood, Hiro and Ando remained inseparable, and it came as a shock the morning Hiro woke up to find the other side of the room empty of his friend. The cherry trees had just begun budding, the ground was soft with rain, and though Hiro's birthday was only days away, he hardly noticed the sunlight or the birds singing while he searched for Ando and failed to find him.
News of Ando's mysterious disappearance was whispered through the halls within the day, rumors ranging from the fanciful ("He's fallen in love with a girl from Edo!") to the accusatory ("After all Nakamura-san has done for him, running off to serve another is shameful indeed!"); if Hiro heard any of the gossip, he had nothing to say. After two days had passed, he walked through the house as if in a daze, spent most of his time out walking and trying to find peace. Zen held no answers for him, however, and his friend's unexplained absence weighed too heavily on his mind for any attempts at comfort to succeed. How could Ando have left, barely days before his birthday? Every day brought another wave of despair: what if Ando wasn't going to return? what if he'd died? what if he'd lost his closest friend forever?
His sleep was disrupted, and rather than linger in the room that seemed so empty, Hiro went out to a grove not far from the house as soon as the sky began to lighten. Sitting cross-legged under his favorite cherry tree, Hiro closed his eyes and thought: six days, longer than any other time, where did he go? I need him here, with me, not haunting my senses like a ghost. the scent of him in our room, the weight of his hand on mine, his smile, oh, Ando, where are you? He thought he could hear Ando calling his name. Foolish hope...
"Hiro! Are you sleeping? Wake up, what are you doing sleeping under a tree?" Hiro's eyes flew open to see the same smile he'd been contemplating, bright above him, Ando's hair rumpled from the wind and one hand outstretched to pull Hiro to his feet. Hiro couldn't speak for shock and happiness; all he could do was squeeze Ando's hand tight and blink when Ando's other hand came forward, pushing a bag with two living flowers rising from it between them.
"It only took me a day and a half to get there, but it took me three days to find the right ones. I know you like them," Ando added, holding out the orchids: one white with a blushing pink center, the other a purple so dark it was nearly black in the dim light before dawn, tied together with a bit of black ribbon. "You do like them?" he added nervously when Hiro didn't respond, or move at all, for that matter. "Hiro. Will you take them or should I start running to avoid your sword?"
"No, no." His hand curling around Ando's, Hiro drew the flowers closer and breathed in slowly, his eyes falling shut. "I do like them. They're my favorites." When he looked at Ando again, his eyes were bright and intensely focused on his friend. He wanted to ask where Ando had gone, why he hadn't told anyone, how he could have left Hiro behind, but the only words that came out were, "I didn't get you flowers..."
"It's your birthday, not mine. Anyhow, I don't need flowers, your smile is enough." The admission was quiet but fierce, wholehearted, and Hiro couldn't help but smile for Ando then.
"So you don't want the book I found for you, then?" he teased, unsurprised when Ando laced their fingers together and tugged him toward the manor house.
"I said I need your smile, I'll take anything else you want to give me." Ando's words inadvertantly sent a shiver down Hiro's spine-- what wouldn't he give to Ando? There was nothing he would hold back if only Ando asked. They walked together to the house, side by side, and Hiro's thoughts spun in circles. The gift he had for Ando was one thing, but the orchids...
"So quiet," Ando said once they reached the room they still shared after eleven years, running his fingers along the inside of Hiro's wrist. "I've never seen you this quiet the whole time we've known each other. Are you so surprised?"
"Not surprised..." He wouldn't say afraid, that wasn't noble, nor entirely accurate. Slowly, Hiro set the orchids in an empty water jar, pulled away from Ando's touch to find the book where he'd kept it hidden for weeks now, and turned back, nervously petting the silk that covered the gift. Ando lit a candle to add light to the quickly advancing sunrise, placing it next to the orchids, and looked at Hiro expectantly. "This was supposed to be for your birthday, but I think now is a good time. We never really learned about bi-do, and you do like to be certain of things before you begin. Here." Ando accepted it curiously, pulling away the wrap to reveal the cover of the book.
"The Beautiful Way," he said, voice soft with something Hiro couldn't identify. Cautiously, Ando flipped through a few pages and suddenly blushed. "Hiro, this has illustrations of-- and instructions--"
"You want to know. So do I. Now you can learn." Hiro reached up to gently pinch the curve of Ando's flushed ear. "And when you begin, begin with me."
"Of course I will. I never wanted anyone else, didn't you know?" Ando set the book down on the other side of the orchids, needing both hands to touch Hiro: lips parting with a gasp, hair soft under Ando's fingers, heart racing under his palm. "All you had to do was look, Hiro, my eyes have always been on you."
Hiro was looking now, studying the face he knew better than his own, using only one fingertip to trace the line of Ando's brow, the bridge of his nose, curve of his lower lip. Ando smiled at the touch, kissing Hiro's finger, and his own hands began to tug at Hiro's obi, loosening the light kimono he'd shrugged on before leaving the house. "Don't you need to read the book?" He heard his voice shake when Ando palmed his side, rough-skinned hands gentle over Hiro's ribs and the slight softness of his middle.
"The book can come tomorrow. What I want now, I've been thinking about for a long time." Finally, he did what they both wanted so much: tilting his head slightly, Ando leaned in and pressed his lips to Hiro's.